Beckett: Pastor’s Thoughts – Circumcision: The Seal of God’s Covenant (Genesis 17:1-11)

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless, that I may make My covenant between Me and you, and may multiply you greatly.’ Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, ‘Behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.’

“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you'” (Genesis 17:1-11).

With the changing of Abram’s name to Abraham (which means “father of a multitude”) and the covenant between God and Abraham marked with the sign of circumcision, from hereon out everything that takes place to the end of Revelation is God fulfilling this promise (see Revelation 7:9). That God chose the male sex organ as the sign of His promise is apt, since He promised He would make Abraham incalculably fecund.

Therefore, to fathom the full significance of this promise, we must turn to the Apostle Paul who understood circumcision’s fulfilment in Christ and, therefore, the church:

Is this blessing [justification by faith] then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith…

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 4:9-5:1

According to Paul, a former “Pharisee of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5), circumcision was the seal of his faith that reckoned righteousness to him (Genesis 15:5-6). Therefore, since his justification by faith predates circumcision and the Law, it is by faith that he became the father of an incalculable multitude. Circumcision merely seals what God has already accomplished in Abraham’s faith, just as Baptism is to our faith. Consider Paul again:

In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Colossians 2:11-12

Just as circumcision was not merely a symbol but actually marked Abraham and his multitudinous offspring as members of God’s covenant, so Baptism is not merely a symbol but actually marks us in Christ by killing us and raising us from the dead as members of Christ’s new covenant, which we also receive in the Eucharist (Matthew 26:27-28).

Therefore, how do you know that you are marked as God’s redeemed—as one of the many children of Abraham whom God has made His own? Look no farther than your Baptism in which God has marked you His dearly beloved child in His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. And look no farther than the Eucharist, where you truly consume Christ’s body and blood that places you in the new covenant of Christ’s blood that justifies sinners.

Theology Terms Used

  • Covenant: “an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.” OR, “to promise; a pledge.”
  • Justification by Faith: Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience in His life, death, and resurrection, God declares sinners to be just or righteous for Christ’s sake by faith. He credits our sins to Christ and credits Christ’s perfect righteousness to us.
  • Justify: literally, “to make right,” or “to put in the right.” (In Greek, the words “justify” and “righteousness” come from the same root word. Thus, to be justified is to be made righteous.)
  • Righteousness: literally, “to be in the right” at all times; perfect, without fault.

Bibliography

Featured Image: The Crucifixion (1565) by Jacopo Tintoretto (c. 1518-1594), oil on canvas, Albergo, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice, Italy. Wikimedia Commons.

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